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U.N. Criticized for ‘Scandalous’ Appointment of Saudi to Human Rights Panel

A Saudi Arabian government official has been secretly appointed to run a U.N. human rights advisory panel.

“The appointment only came to light today,” three months after the official got the job, said Reporters Without Borders, as quoted by AFP.

“It has enraged human rights defenders and international human rights organisations worldwide,” said the group.

Alexandra El Khazen, head of the press-freedom organization’s Middle East and North Africa department, called the appointment “grotesque” and “outrageous.”

The appointee is Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United Nations’ Human Rights Council, Faisal bin Hassan Trad.

Clearly, the U.N. anticipated the outraged reaction, which makes it even more puzzling that they would go ahead with installing a representative from one of the world’s most oppressive countries as the head of a human-rights panel.

On the other hand, current members of the Human Rights Council include China, Cuba, Russia, and Venezuela, so perhaps the U.N. feels Saudi Arabia is a reasonable example of where respect for human dignity and freedom stands in the world today.

Ensaf Haidar, the wife of reporter Raif Badawi–tossed in the dungeons of Saudi Arabia for ten years and sentenced to be whipped a thousand times for blogging about free speech, and supposedly insulting Islam in the process–fears that the U.N.’s whitewashing of Saudi Arabia’s human-rights record will be interpreted as a “green light to start flogging him again.”

Badawi reportedly has received 50 lashes to date, which means he has 950 to go. The first flogging was performed in a public square near a mosque in Jiddah and uploaded to YouTube, with the crowd screaming “Allahu akbar!” as each blow landed.

The Saudi Supreme Court has upheld Badawi’s sentence, leaving no possibility for appeal, unless King Salman intervenes with a pardon. The reaction of the Saudi government to international pressure for the release of Badawi and other activists jailed in a crackdown on dissidents has been defiant.

The Saudi appointment was uncovered by watchdog group U.N. Watch, which called on the U.S. and European Union to condemn the move and work to reverse it. They noted that the panel chaired by Faisal Trad controlled over 77 important U.N. positions concerning human rights, so putting Saudi Arabia in charge of it was comparable to “making a pyromaniac into the town fire chief.”

“It is scandalous that the UN chose a country that has beheaded more people this year than ISIS to be head of a key human rights panel,” said U.N. Watch executive director Hillel Neuer. “Petro-dollars and politics have trumped human rights.”

Neuer suggested that the Saudis might have been given this plum panel chairmanship as part of a backroom deal to abandon a bid for outright presidency of the entire 47-nation Human Rights Council. That would evidently have exceeded even the United Nations’ capacity for embarrassment.

International Business Times notes that Saudi Arabia’s record on human rights includes over 100 beheadings during the first half of 2015 for crimes including “murder, rape, armed robbery, using recreational drugs, and smuggling, in addition to homosexuality, false prophecy, apostasy, adultery, witchcraft and sorcery.” The Kingdom has also been criticized for its treatment of women and religious minorities.

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